Killing us softly with their tribal talk, strumming our pain with their scams

Sunday December 23 2018

Nasa co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka. The popular politicians in Kenya are those that have mastered this script, playing the hero of the tribe. PHOTO | NMG


“In our age,” wrote George Orwell in an essay, “… all issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

The quote refers to the tumultuous period when proponents of fascism, socialism, nationalism, etc, all claimed to be telling the truth, when in fact they were propagating its antithesis.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s classic dystopia, is a fictional representation of this quote. In the totalitarian state of Oceania, “lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia” are the language and method of politics.

It is frightening that this quote could also, word for word, refer to present day politics in Kenya.

As an illustration of this, consider the following:
After the mock swearing-in of Raila Odinga, there was much speculation over to why his co-principals, including Kalonzo Musyoka, the man to be sworn in as his deputy, failed to turn up at Uhuru Park, the venue.

Many people, even those who had rightly judged the mock ceremony a symbolic gesture of protest without any practical significance, were curious about the mystery of the missing co-principals.


Then two key insiders appeared on television at different times to eventually unravel the mystery.

Both, wearing pious masks, wove a tale of deception and treachery right out of Arabian Nights. Putting on their patented expressions of pain and concern, they said the goal of the deceit and treachery was to portray the no-show co-principals as traitors while elevating Raila as a hero.

It was such an elaborate tale, and such a well-rehearsed performance – the right gesture, the correct change of voice to indicate great suffering, the wagging of fingers to express righteous anger, open palms to emphasise despair at the existence of such deviousness, the world-weary shaking of the head – that even those of us who automatically assume that politicians are liars and thieves until proven otherwise, gave the gentlemen the benefit of doubt.

Later, one of the no-show co-principals revealed in a TV interview that the real reason why they did not show up at Uhuru Park was because they did not support the mock swearing-in.

A few years ago, a minister became the subject of criticism over the alleged unprocedural sale of a government-owned city hotel. He huffed and puffed at rallies, decrying sinister moves to finish his tribe.

The minister was following an often-used script; when in trouble because of corruption or incompetence, summon the tribe to your defence.

Put on the most pained expression your chubby face can allow, and claim that linking you to this or that crime is the first step towards the eradication of your tribe. At rallies, make thundering and rambling speeches about your tribe’s persecution then, through innuendo, point out the enemies of the tribe.

We are again seeing the acting out of this sinister script. As the war on corruption intensifies, we hear politicians claiming that the anti-graft fight is aimed at “profiling” their ethnic community.

They appear on TV panels wearing martyred faces and lie without shame. They summon their high school acting skills to express gloom and doom. At rallies in their backyards, they rally the tribe against this persecution.

These politicians, from the very imaginative gentlemen referred to above (if they fail in politics, they should try script writing) to the politicians channelling martyrdom, know very well what they are doing.

Carl von Clausewitz opined that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” These politicians are continuing politics by Kenya’s true and tested means. Americans say, “All politics is local.” In Kenya, all politics is tribal. By uttering these untruths, the politician projects himself or herself as the defender of the tribe.

That is how to climb up the political ladder. The popular politicians in Kenya, invited to every TV panel, are those that have mastered this script, playing the hero of the tribe.

The truth is that corruption is the cause of Kenya’s underdevelopment.

Any analytical economic model would project that if all the money stolen since 1963 had been put to good use, Kenya’s GDP would be four times its present size, equal to South Africa’s and, therefore, scoring higher than that country on a per capita scale. This money has been stolen by members of different ethnic groups.

We rally to their defence, forgetting that when they are stealing money meant for hospitals, for instance, they do not care whether members of their tribe die for lack of medicines. We defend their actions which kill us slowly. A Grecian tragedy.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.